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Challenge from a departed drag queen

01/30/2012

Yesterday morning, I was casting about for a new blog topic. As I scanned through notes and old files on my hard drive, I came across a piece I wrote 18 months ago and then forgot about. It was a meditation on the life of a well-loved local drag queen, Bianca Page, written on the day her death was announced.

Two weeks later, I wrote a post about regrets over lost time and lost opportunities – feelings many of us who come out late have to confront – and  I talked about Bianca within that context.What I wrote on the day of her death was about something else: wearing masks, and being clear – with both ourselves and others – about who we are.

As I re-read this piece, it sounded relevant to our lives as late bloomers, and despite the passage of 18 months, still fresh. So I present it below, and pause a moment to remember and thank Miss Bianca.

06.05.10

R.I.P. Miss Bianca Paige

Nashville’s arts/performance/gay communities – populous as befits a city of 1.5 million people, but interlocked as befits the small-town way we do things here – are abuzz today with news of the death of Mark Middleton, aka Miss Bianca Page, The Pantomime Rage. Bianca was a fixture on the local and regional drag stage for more than 20 years.

A Paducah, KY boy who came to the big city to become a star, her costumes and performances were extravagant. Her gravelly voice, which I got to hear only once, the single time I saw her perform, was utterly unforgettable – like a Brooklyn cabbie from an old movie crossed with Barney Fife. She was a tireless fund-raiser for AIDS-related causes. And her on-stage patter was hilarious. It’s no wonder she had a lot of fans.

Bianca died at 45 of an “undisclosed illness.” Possibly cancer – she was a heavy smoker – or maybe it was AIDS. Doesn’t matter much – death certainly came before its time. And she was broke. A benefit is being staged to help with her final expenses.

There are a great many folks around these parts who are deeply saddened by this news.

And I’m saddened too, but not so much from a sense of personal loss. I didn’t know Bianca, and I’m not a big drag fan. It makes me sad because hers seems like such an unreal, self-destructive way to live a life.

Does this sound judgmental? I don’t mean it to.

I’m not thinking about the smoking, or any other element of an “unhealthy” lifestyle. I’m using the term self-destructive in the sense of losing one’s self, submerging one’s identity into someone or something other.

As a veteran of more than 25 years in the marketing business, I have to admire Bianca’s masterly job of branding and ongoing brand management. I refer to this person as Miss Bianca, not as Mark Middleton, because that’s who she was.

Or was she? And what was it about Mark Middleton that needed to be hidden or obliterated? Is this true of all drag performance? Is this why I’m not a fan?

As a recently emerged gay man, I’m no stranger to the practice of wearing masks. All human beings do it to some degree. But my experience, in personal life as well as in commerce, teaches me that the more honest a brand is, the better and stronger it is.

And yet …

Maybe Bianca was the real person, and Mark was the fake. I don’t have an answer for that. And, sadly, the only person who did, died this morning, well before her time.

So, I take this puzzle as a challenge to be true to who I am, both within myself and in public. To get as clear as I can about who I am, to understand myself as a work in progress, and to continue the process as long as I live.

On Bianca Page, I make no judgment. And I am saddened. Rest in peace, Miss Bianca. My condolences to your family and to your many friends and fans. This is, indeed, a sad day here in Nashvegas.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/30/2012 12:15 PM

    Great post. I was fortunate enough to see Bianca Page perform on many occassions and also had opportunities to speak with Mark about fundraising ideas.

    I, too, have never embraced the “world of drag”. But I most certainly did embrace the work that Bianca Page did on behalf of the community regardless of her motivation.

    • 01/30/2012 3:19 PM

      You have to admire her for working to make the world around her – and us – a better place. We use the talents God gives us. Or we don’t. She chose to use what she had – a good and admirable thing.

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